Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Biography – Basketball Legend, Athlete, Activist, Legacy

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Biography
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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Frank Bryan, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Biography and Legacy

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is an American former professional basketball player, who is regarded as one of the greatest basketball players of all time.

He played 20 seasons in the NBA for the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Lakers and was a record 6-time NBA All-Defensive Team member and a member of 6 NBA Championship teams as a player and two as an assistant coach.

Early Life

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr. on 16th April 1947 in New York City.

His father, Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Sr., was a transit police officer and jazz musician. And his mother, Cora Lilian, was a departmental store price checker.

Kareem was the only child and grew up in the Dyckman Street projects in the Inwood neighborhood of Upper Manhattan. He had always been very tall for his age, which often left him depressed as he was a victim of stares and comments about his height, especially during his teenage years.

Around the time he was 14 years old, he was already 6ft 8in (2.03m) tall and could slam dunk a basketball.

Early Basketball

From an early age, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar showed great potential in the sport of basketball.

While in high school, he led the Power Memorial Academy team to three straight New York City Catholic Championships. He led them to a 71-game winning streak and a 79-2 overall record, earning the nickname The Tower from Power.

Kareem had scored a total of 2,067 points, which was a New York City high school record.

When he was in the 10th and 11th grades, the team went on to win the national high school boys’ basketball championship. And in his senior year, they were runner-ups.

In Kareem’s final year at Power, the team’s coach, Jack Donohue, called him the N-word, which caused a strain in their relationship from then on.

College Basketball at UCLA

After graduating from Power Memorial Academy, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar enrolled at UCLA, where he was relegated to the freshman team, as freshmen were not eligible to play varsity until the year 1972. By now, he was 7ft. 1in (2.16m) tall.

In 1967, Kareem, aged 18, made his first public appearance in UCLA’s annual varsity-freshman exhibition game. Even though the varsity team was the two-time defending national champions at the time, the freshman team won 75-60 with Kareem scoring 31 points and 21 rebounds. It was the first time that a freshman team had beaten the varsity team.

The freshman team went on to win 21 games with zero losses that year, defeating other freshman and Junior College teams.

The following year, Kareem made his varsity debut as a sophomore, receiving national coverage. The press referred to him as The New Superstar after he scored 56 points in his first game, setting a new UCLA single-game record. He led UCLA to an undefeated 30-0 record and a national championship that year.

Kareem’s dominance was so much that for the 1967 season dunking was banned in college basketball in an attempt to curtail him. This rule remained in force until the 1976-77 season.

Over the course of three years, the team went on to have a record of 88 wins and only 2 losses.

Kareem received numerous awards and accolades during his college basketball career, including the National Player of the Year award from 1967 to 1969, and the Most Outstanding Player award in the NCAA Tournament three times.

In his senior year, he met Janice Brown (later Habiba Abdul-Jabbar), whom he would go on to marry and have three children with.

Game of the Century

On 20th January 1968, UCLA faced the Houston Cougars in the first-ever nationally televised regular-season college basketball game, with more than 52,000 people in attendance at the Astrodome.

Around a week before the game, Kareem’s left cornea was scratched in a game against Cal. Due to this injury, Kareem was only able to score 15 points against Houston.

Houston won the game 71-69, bringing an end to UCLA’s 47-game winning streak. The game has since been referred to as the Game of the Century.

Milwaukee Bucks

In 1969, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, aged 22, graduated from UCLA with a Bachelor of Arts.

The same year, he was offered $1 million to play for the Harlem Globetrotters, but he refused. Instead, he was picked up by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1969 NBA draft.

Kareem was immediately effective for the Bucks and enabled them to finish second place in the NBA’s Eastern Division in the 1969-70 season. He became an instant star, ranking second in the league in scoring and third in rebounding. He was awarded the NBA Rookie of the Year award for his performance that season.

He also set a rookie record with 10 or more games of 20+ points scored during the playoffs.

The following season, the Bucks went on to record the best record in the league with 66 wins, including a then-record 20 straight wins.

Kareem was awarded his first of six NBA Most Valuable Player awards, along with his first scoring title. He also led the league in total points with 2,596 points.

In the 1971 NBA Finals, the Bucks won the title by defeating the Baltimore Bullets 4-0. Kareem was named the Finals MVP after averaging 27 points per game.

Converting to Islam

In the year 1971, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then still known by his birth name), aged 24, converted to Sunni Islam by taking the shahada (Islamic oath) twice and taking the name, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Kareem would later state that the reason he had converted to Islam and changed his name was that he wanted to latch on to something that was a part of his heritage, as many of the slaves that were brought to America were Muslims.

Continued Success with the Bucks

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar continued to perform well through the following season as well.

Once again, he repeated as scoring champion with 2,822 points and became the first player to be named the NBA Most Valuable Player twice in his first three years.

In 1974, the Bucks won their fourth consecutive Midwest Division title, and Kareen won his third MVP award in four years.

Desire to Move

In March 1975, it was reported that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had requested a trade to either Los Angeles or New York. Although, it was believed that he preferred to go to the New York Knicks.

Kareem revealed that being in the midwest did not suit his cultural needs and he confirmed his desire to move to another city.

Los Angeles Lakers

In the year 1975, the LA Lakers acquired Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

In his first season with the Lakers, Kareem flourished and dominated as usual. He averaged 27.7 points per game and led the league in rebounding, blocked shots, and total minutes. He also won his 4th MVP, becoming the first winner in Lakers’ history.

The following season, 1976-77, Kareem led the Lakers to the best record of 53-29 in the NBA. He also won his 5th MVP to tie with Bill Russell’s record.

1977-78 Season

In the opening game of the 1977-78 season, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar broke his right hand after punching Milwaukee’s Kent Benson, as Benson had elbowed his stomach.

Benson got a black eye and needed two stitches. Kareem, on the other hand, missed 20 games over 2 months due to the injury and was fined $5,000 (which was then a record in the league). But he was not suspended.

Kareem was not named to the 1978 NBA All-star Game that season, the only time in his 20-year career he was not selected to an All-Star Game.

Even though Kareem continued to dominate the league with his exceptional performances, the Lakers failed to make it past the playoffs in 1978.

The Birth of the Laker Dynasty

In the year 1979, the Lakers acquired Magic Johnson with the first overall pick of the draft.

Johnson’s addition to the Lakers paved the way for the Laker dynasty of the 1980s, making them the most dominant team in the league.

The Lakers would go on to play in the final 8 times, winning 5 NBA Championships.

During this period, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar upheld and reinforced his status as one of the greatest basketball players of all time. He won his 6th MVP in 1980 and averaged 20 or more points in the following six seasons.

He also won another two All-Defense First Team honors and four All-NBA First Team selections.

In 1984, Kareem, aged 37, broke Wilt Chamberlain’s record for the most career points.

In 1985, he won his second Finals MVP.

In his last three seasons at the Lakers, they reached the NBA finals all three times, defeating Boston in 1987 and Detroit in 1988, but losing to the Pistons in 1989.


After winning Game 7 of the 1988 finals, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar announced in the locker room that the 1989 season would be his last one.

In his last season, he received standing ovations in both home and away games. He also received several gifts, such as a yacht named Captain Skyhook, framed jerseys, and a Persian rug.

In his last regular-season game against Seattle, every Laker came onto the court wearing Kareem’s trademark goggles.

At the time of his retirement, Kareem was the all-time record holder for most points (38,387), most minutes played (57,446), and most field goals made (15,837).

Kareem was 42 years old when he retired from professional basketball, crediting yoga and his strict fitness regime for his longevity in the sport.

Post-Retirement Life

After retiring from professional basketball, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar worked as an assistant for the Los Angeles Clippers and the Seattle SuperSonics. He mentored their young centers, Jerome James and Michael Olowokandi.

Kareem also became the head coach of the Oklahoma Storm of the United States Basketball League in 2002, leading the team to the league’s championship that season.

A year later, he also tried to land the head coaching position at Columbia University but failed. He then went on to work as a scout for the New York Knicks, before becoming the special assistant coach to Phil Jackson of the Lakers from 2005 to 2011.

In 2013, he stopped coaching after he applied for but failed to get the head coach position with UCLA and the Milwaukee Bucks.


Since his retirement, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has often publicly expressed his views on issues of race, religion, politics, and other social issues, on television and in newspapers and magazines.

He also became a cultural critic and best-selling author, publishing several books on African-American history. He also writes a regular column for Time and contributes to other magazines as well.

In 2012, Kareem accepted a position as a cultural ambassador for the United States, for which he traveled to places in order to promote education for local youth.

Kareem was also appointed to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition by Barack Obama.


Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is widely regarded as one of the greatest players in the history of the NBA and has numerous records and awards to his name.

At the time of his retirement, he was the NBA’s all-time leader in games played, points scored, minutes played, field goals made, blocked shots, defensive rebounds, and career wins.

He is a record 6-time NBA MVP, a record 19-time NBA All-Star, a 15-time All-NBA selection, and an 11-time NBA All-Defensive Team member. He has been a member of 6 NBA Championship teams as a player and two more as an assistant coach and was twice voted NBA Finals MVP.

Kareem also became famous for his trademark Skyhook, which is a hook shot in which he bent his entire body (rather than just the arm), like a straw, in one fluid motion to raise the ball and then release it at the highest point of his arm’s arching motion.

The skyhook, with his height and long arms, was almost impossible for a defender to block without committing a foul. The shot allowed him to become the all-time leading scorer in NBA history.

Kareem has often been regarded by several of his colleagues in the league, such as coach Pat Riley, Isiah Thomas, and Julius Erving, as the greatest basketball player of all time.

In 1995, he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

In 2015, ESPN ranked him No. 2 behind Michael Jordan among the greatest NBA players ever.

But Kareem was more than just a basketball player. He was a writer and an activist, who wrote and spoke on social and political issues, and on African-American history.

He was a friend of Muhammad Ali and was also deeply into martial arts and yoga, crediting Bruce Lee with teaching him the discipline and spirituality of martial arts, which helped him to play competitively in the NBA for 20 years with very few injuries.

He has also acted in several movies and television shows since his retirement. In 2015, a documentary on his life titled Kareem: Minority of One was released.

In 2016, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by former President Barack Obama.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is, without a doubt, one of the greatest athletes to have ever lived. Not only has he cemented his place on the Mount Rushmore of basketball greats, but he has also made a strong case for being one of the greatest athletes in the history of sports. Kareem’s legacy will continue to inspire athletes across the globe, from various sports, to strive for greatness and be the best they can be.